This isn’t a normal draft - I’m sure you all know that by now. With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, MLB teams are supposedly getting hit hard in their pockets due to lack of games (again, supposedly). This means they have had to go into cost cutting mode. One way they’ve cut back is by reducing the MLB draft from its usual 40 rounds to just five rounds. Ultimately, this won’t save teams much, as reportedly it would collectively be ~$29M or just $1M per team.
My main issue with the draft being shortened is if teams are looking for a way to cut costs, reducing their best way to potentially find cost controlled talent wouldn’t be one of them. Even hitting on one good player is worth the entire collective draft savings the teams would have and I’m talking about
just one team finding that player.
But this piece of course is not about the stupidity of shortening the draft, it’s about the players who will be available in that stupidly shortened draft.
The Royals picks are:
#4 (1st round)
#32 (1st competitive balance)
#41 (2nd round)
#76 (3rd round)
#105 (4th round)
#135 (5th round)
The top five bonus pools (which the Royals have the 3rd most)
As far as who the Royals will take? Any pick after the first is dependent on the pick before them, and obviously that compounds after each pick. It is likely that Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson and Vanderbilt shortstop Austin Martin go in some manner of first and second, leaving the Royals with a pick either New Mexico State second baseman Nick Gonzales, Georgia pitcher, Emerson Hancock, or Texas A&M pitcher Asa Lacy depending on which of the three that Marlins take.
Most mock drafts have the Royals taking Nick Gonzales with Spencer Torkelson/Austin Martin/Emerson Hancock coming off the board (though sometimes it’s a swap of Asa Lacy for Hancock). I wonder with the dearth of information in the draft this year and the Royals feeling like they hit on gold in the 2018 draft, that they might take either Hancock/Lacy as a safer pick. However alternatively, I think you could argue that they spent a lot of draft capital on college pitchers in 2018 and then took their high upside prep guy in 2019, so Gonzales is the most likely for diversification purposes. I’d be a bit surprised if they took Zac Veen, even if #RoyalsTwitter is clamoring for it.
So let’s move on to names to know. I’ll be working from the aggregate draft rankings I put together every year, starting from the top on down.
Spencer Torkelson - 1B, Arizona State
Tork has been in the discussion for the top two players in the draft since the conclusion of the 2019 draft and he’s firmly now the best bet to go #1 overall. You probably know about his career at ASU, where he hit .337/.443 /.723 and played like Barry Bonds incarnate. If he was anything other than a first baseman, he’d be one of the best hitting draft prospects in awhile probably, but alas, he is seen as a first baseman. He’s played a little left field and third base, but first has been typically considered his home and he’s gotten better at the position.
He’s more athletic than Andrew Vaughn (a guy I loved) from the 2019 draft, so that helps explain why he’ll go two picks higher and in the ultimate spot. Who knows if he’ll actually play organized professional baseball in 2020 in the classic sense, but he should be as quick a mover as Andrew Vaughn (who probably would have opened up his first full season in AA).
Austin Martin - 3B/CF, Vanderbilt
Martin was once getting mocked to the Royals early on but he’s moved solidly into the top two (or top three at least) that he’d have to be passed by three teams to get to the Royals, which seems unlikely (but you never know).
He was supposed to be Vandy’s shortstop but his arm wasn’t great so instead he moved to third base and has also played the outfield. He’s a better pure hitter than Torkelson but doesn’t have the same power. There is plus speed and he’s expected to be an above average fielder in any of the potential landing spots.
Be ready for constant Dansby Swanson comps but Swanson was a better defender and Martin is probably a better hitter. I’m not convinced the Tigers shouldn’t take Martin first overall rather than Torkelson because the safety net should be higher with Martin, but you understand why they would go with Tork instead.
Asa Lacy - LHP, Texas A&M
Lacy and Hancock (below) are the two best pitching prospects in the draft and you’d probably get a different preference for one depending on the team. With Lacy, he’s got better raw stuff than Hancock but analysts aren’t sold on his delivery (something we’ve seen before not really matter but it’s still being considered as a tie breaker).
He might not have the best slider or fastball in the draft singularly, but he certainly has the best combination of the two and that’s caused analysts to prefer him over Hancock despite the reliever risk in his delivery.
Nick Gonzales - 2B, New Mexico State
You can throw out all his stats from New Mexico State (he hit .432/.532/.773 last year and was at .448/.610/1.155 before the season was cancelled) and just focus on the player himself, as the environment in the desert might as well be played on Mercury all the same. Having said that, Gonzales did hit well in the much more neutral Cape Cod League.
He’s a high contact hitter in the mold of 2018 draftee Nick Madrigal but with a bit more power but not quite the runner. Madrigal was a bit divisive for analysts for where he should go (ultimately went fourth overall to the White Sox) and Gonzales I think might be some of the same. You might see some Keston Huira comps out there due to the hittability and questions about if he’s a second baseman or not but I think Huira has more power and isn’t quite as athletic.
I like Gonzales about as much as liked Madrigal in 2018 but I think I underestimated Madrigal’s concern for his lack of power. Again, Gonzales does have a bit more but I think he’s more like Joe Panik/Brandon Phillips than Hiura/Madrigal.
Emerson Hancock - RHP, Georgia
Lacy is known more for the better pure stuff whereas Hancock is all around more polished. He’s got three above average to plus-ish pitches and a track record of performance (I’ve seen some Casey Mize comps in that vein). However he had a chance to cement himself as a potential first overall pick and just didn’t. He had a great 2019 for the most part but had a brief injury and didn’t come back the same. That would be excusable but then in the shortened 2020 season he wasn’t quite as good as that early-2019 Hancock. Still, I think I’d take his well roundness over Lacy.
Zac Veen - OF, Spruce Creek HS (FL)
Veen is getting a lot of love from #RoyalsTwitter and I don’t disagree with it. I wouldn’t take him over Torkelson, Martin, or Hancock but over Lacy/Gonzales? I think I would, even with the additional risk that prep bats bring over college guys.
The Christian Yelich comps are probably a bit too rich unless we are talking more Marlins Yelich than Brewers Yelich (I’m not sure Veen is going to ever post a .342 ISO) but there is that mold of an already good contact/approach left handed hitter who is going to get bigger and add power. The career path of Veen defensively will probably be close to Yelich, who just wasn’t good in centerfield and moved to left. It obviously didn’t matter because he was such a good hitter than he could have played 1B and been an above average player.
Expect a giant internet roar if the Royals take him at 4th.
Max Meyer - LHP, Minnesota
I was trying to think of who the last Gopher to be taken early was and I couldn’t, so I had to look it up: Glen Perkins went 22nd overall in 2004. The player before that to go earlier was Dan Wilson (7th overall) in 1990. So it’s likely Meyer will be the highest Minnesota Gopher taken in 30 years.
Meyer can challenge Lacy as having the best pair of pitches (also fastball/slider like Lacy) but there is a lot of reliever concern given his size (6’0”), weight (185 lbs), and command. He was used in relief for the Gophers and was moved to the rotation out of the teams desperation for bodies. He impressed there obviously and has now found himself in the early-first round conversation, but probably isn’t going before the two college pitching peers above.
Reid Detmers - LHP, Louisville
Pull up a scouting report on Detmers and you’ll find the word “pitchability” no fewer than 10 times in it. That’s fair but it’s probably underselling him a bit as he still touches mid-90’s. But yeah, he’s more of a pitchability guy whose results are better than his stuff. Only his curveball is an above average to plus pitch while the rest is average. That’s a somewhat scary profile because that type of profile has a thin margin for error (but to be fair it’s not like he’s throwing 88 MPH every time) and his skill level erodes from a lower base.
It’s a good profile that I think I’d like more at 18th overall rather than 8th overall.
Austin Hendrick - OF, West Allegheny HS (PA)
Hendrick has the age red flag that has doomed many prep hitting prospect before him and it’s combined with the power over hit/strikeout concerns red flag too. But that hasn’t stopped him from being one of the best prep performers in this draft class and displaying his huge raw power. Oh, he’s also from a non-hotbed state, so that’s somewhat of a third red flag but you could also see it as he’ll get better with more reps against better competition.
No one doubts the power of a guy who is posting 100+ MPH exit velos as a teenager but these types of players are usually boom or bust. Someone put a Bryce Harper comp on him (but immediately watered it down a bit and said explicitly not the pre-draft Harper) and that’s maybe not crazy if Hendrick hits the “boom” side of his distribution and ends up like Bryce Harper excluding 2015.
Heston Kjerstad - OF, Arkansas
Man, it feels like whoever gets Kjerstad is going to get a good deal on a guy who might have gone several spots higher if it were a full season. Kjerstad has done nothing but hit for his career in the best college conference in the land. He gets dinged a bit for everything that is going on during his setup and swing but it hasn’t mattered and he’s got great bat control paired with the best college power outside of Torkelson.
There is just a lot to like there I think and the major ding is just him playing right field but it won’t matter if he hits enough. I think I’m going to make him one of “my guys” in this draft. At the 3:00 mark in the video below he homers to center field at Minute Maid.
Garrett Mitchell - OF, UCLA
Mitchell was an expected overslot prospect back in 2017 as he was expected to drop relative to his talent based on having type 1 diabetes. He turned down a reported $1M+ deal and so he fell outside of the top 10 rounds and ended up being a Bruin. Mitchell has made swing changes perennially in college that has calmed some of the concerns on him when he was in high school. There is a gap between his raw power and what plays out in games and that’s due to the aforementioned swing, which has been described as “slappy”. He’s an excellent athlete and a plus runner who will stick in center. If he can translate his raw power into game power, he’ll really have something.
Jared Kelley - RHP, Refugio HS (TX)
Stop me if you’ve heard of a thick-bodied Texas right hander with a 100 MPH fastball before, but that’s what Kelley is. Unlike the ghosts of Texas prep pitching past, Kelley isn’t a fastball-power slider/curve guy, his changeup is actually his second best pitch and it’s a good one. That gives him a lot better floor than those who came before him and he has better command than many of them to boot.
I usually try to avoid prep power pitchers but Kelley brings the rarity of a power fastball and good changeup while having good command too. I like him a lot more than most guys who have come before him.
Mick Abel - RHP, Jesuit HS (OR)
A prototypical sized right-handed prep pitcher, Abel is pretty stock: good fastball and curve, with a changeup that needs some improvement and expecting the command to come around as he gains size/velo. We’ve seen this type of prep prospect year in and year out and whether or not he turns into an above average Major Leaguer comes down to how well the org that drafts him develops him.
Patrick Bailey - C, North Carolina State
Bailey averages this high simply because he’s a good catcher rather than having standout tools/production like Adley Rutschman had that moved him up to first overall. Obviously there is nothing wrong with just being a good defensive catcher but that has an asymmetric impact on his draft spot than if he played anywhere else on the field.
There are worst things in the world than a good defensive catcher with good power and fringey contact skills, it’s just more of a value play than someone you’ll build a franchise around probably.
Nick Bitsko - RHP, Central Bucks East HS (PA)
Likely to be the youngest player taken in the first round this year, Bitsko was the best prep pitching prospect in 2021 who reclassified to be 2020 eligible in a class filled with good pitchers, expecting to move up the proverbial ladder. Unfortunately he didn’t get the full chance to make that decision pay off with the shortened season but he’ll still go early so it’s hard to complain when you are still making $2-3M+ as a teenager.
Given the lack of typical information teams should have on players at this point in the season, Bitsko is probably the best player who could end up not signing.
Cade Cavalli - RHP, Oklahoma
Cavalli didn’t start pitching until the middle of high school and then missed his senior season with a back injury, so he played first base/DH his freshman year in Norman. The injury bug bit again his sophomore year with a stress reaction in his arm and then global pandemic came along and ended his junior season early as well.
Maladies aside, Cavalli is impressive at 6’4” 225 lbs with three above average pitches and decent enough command, but he’s just pitched an abnormally small amount for a college pitcher (77 career innings) that teams might be hesitant to take him earlier than normal if he had pitched more.
Robert Hassell - OF, Independence HS (TN)
Hassell might be a better pure hitter than Veen but lacks the power of Veen (and obviously Hendricks too). He’s thinner than both and he might not stick in center field but he’s just crushed the ball everywhere and was the WBSC International POTY in 2019. On the one hand, you can be concerned about him never growing into power but on the other hand if the juiced ball remains then it might artificially fix that concern.
I think I saw a Nick Markakis comp on him, which obviously would be a stellar career and an example that power is the tool with the most external forces.
Ed Howard - SS, Mount Carmel HS (IL)
The best prep SS in a class that’s weak in it, Howard is an above average defender at the position. He’s very athletic and quick and makes solid contact at the plate but lacks power due to his frame. If he adds to the latter, then he could wind up the best player in this class.
Garrett Crochet - LHP, Tennessee
Crochet has split time between the rotation and bullpen, sometimes due to need and others due to injury. He throws similar to Andrew Miller and has that same type of peak Miller stuff of a plus fastball and slider, but has just a short track record due to injury (remember that Miller was one of the better college pitchers of his generation). He has the kind of upside that is attractive from a risk/reward standpoint in the mid-to-late first round I think.
Tyler Soderstrom - C, Turlock HS (CA)
Ah, the elusive unicorn that is a prep catcher who actually ends up a good MLB player, but in this case one that might not even stick behind the plate. Soderstrom is a good hitter and that calls out to teams/scouts/analysts more than his defensive skills, which helps ease the burden he would face if he moved off the position to play third base or the outfield. There is some projection on his power too, which could make him a 50 hit, 50 power third baseman with a good arm.
That's the career WAR so far for prep catchers selected in the draft since 2014. It's also the total number of MLB games for high school catchers drafted since then too.
That's the career WAR so far for prep catchers selected since 2010.— Shaun Newkirk (@Shauncore) May 26, 2020